Kimberly Lawson – Editor, Creative Loafing Charlotte
The fluctuating state of the newspaper industry is a divisive topic depending on whom you ask, and also on which day. While some industry veterans may decry the Internet and social media as detrimental to the printed word, others look to the promise of the digital landscape and the opportunity it presents to offer timely, accurate, quality content in a paperless format, which steadily becomes more familiar to audiences than newsprint. While these newspaper optimists may not always be apparent, some really do believe that the newspaper is still alive and kicking.
Or, more simply put, “newspapers are sexy.”
These coy words can be attributed to Kimberly Lawson, the new editor of Creative Loafing Charlotte since May 2013, who is partial to the more hopeful view of the industry. “It’s an exciting time to be a journalist,” she said. “If we maximize on the opportunities set before us rather than bemoan the losses…the potential is there to grow.”
Lawson is poised to do so, with seven years of experience at Charlotte’s premier alternative weekly under her belt.
Creative Loafing was Lawson’s first job after graduating from Augusta State University in 2006, starting as a part-time copy editor and earning the title of editorial coordinator within a week. She invokes the lyrics of hip-hop artist Drake, in that she literally “started from the bottom.”
Lawson eventually graduated to the managing editor role, while also earning her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of North Carolina in 2012, during the midst of SouthComm Inc.’s acquirement of Creative Loafing Charlotte in October 2010.
Whatever grandeur the title of editor may conjure in the minds of some, Lawson is keeping a humble air, knowing she has “huge shoes to fill.” She said she’s following in the footsteps of two great editors who have taken CL Charlotte to new heights in terms of coverage and writing quality. “If I can emulate their legacies in some small capacity, but still offer a fresh perspective as a woman and a minority (my mother is Korean), then I’ll fell like I’m doing something right.”
Maintaining any steady job over seven years is no longer an easy or guaranteed prospect, in the minds of some, but Lawson must be doing something right. Publisher Wendy Goldstein called her the “perfect” and “obvious choice” when selecting the paper’s new editor, noting her “exemplary management skills,” as well as her aptitude for new media.
“She’s successfully transitioned the team to new platforms, new designs, kept operations running smoothly through the acquisition by SouthComm Inc., mentored her teammates and generally supported all efforts to make Creative Loafing the go-to arts and entertainment and local news publication that it is,” Goldstein said. “She has stepped up to the plate whenever there was a need, including taking on and keeping the responsibilities of the online director. She does it all, and she does it very, very well.”
Doing it all for a newspaper today means quite a skill set, while also balancing a printed edition with an online shadow and social media presence, a challenge Lawson is prepared to face.
“One thing I ponder on a lot since becoming the boss is how to compete with smartphones and social media. Once upon a time, people were reading Creative Loafing in coffee shops, on the bus, or while waiting for a hair appointment. Nowadays, people are turning to their smartphones to occupy their time,” Lawson said. “In this fast-paced, tech-savvy, ADD world we live in today, figuring out how to grasp the attention of potential readers is something I’m constantly thinking about. Generally speaking, I think it’s going to require us to bust formats and offer content that no one else can or will do. Figuring out what that is, however, is the hard part.”
Lawson’s plans for Creative Loafing are focused on the website, as she acknowledges the needs of her readers, and the increasing preference for an online news source. While she credits the worth of in-depth and lengthy cover stories, she wants to deconstruct conventional formats, and find new ways to present both print and online content, while keeping with Creative Loafing’s legacy for starting dialogue. One strategy she plans to utilize is pre-planning of print stories, “in order to allow time to create special Web-related content to complement that print coverage.”
In addition to enhancing online content, Lawson is also increasing CL Charlotte’s reach through social media. “We’re slowly but surely maximizing on these channels, tailoring our approaches to fit these specific audiences. For example, our food content is really popular on Pinterest. Facebook, on the other hand, is a great avenue to share local news stories.”
As Lawson herself has acquired myriad media skills, she advises the same for anyone seeking to enter the media field, emphasizing the need for cross-training.
“It’s not enough nowadays to be a great writer. When faced with two potential candidates, I’m going to hire the person who has a wide range of skills. New journalists need to be up on their video editing game, social media game, photography, writing, editing, the whole gamut,” she said. “Having had a few stories or photos is great, but what other skills can you bring to a media company? That’s what’s going to set you apart from the pack.”
Lawson prefers to receive story pitches via email, though she emphasized the need for uniqueness. “Suggestions for story ideas are always great,” she said. “But, nothing so generic that I could probably hit up Yahoo for the same story idea.”
In addition, Lawson advised specific notes if sending attachments. “If a publicist sends a press release as an attachment but doesn’t give a hint as to what the text is in the body of the email it immediately gets deleted.”
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